pain during sex


The Checkup: Yes, Really. One-Third Of Women Have Pain During Sex

A while back we wrote about a national sex survey that found one-third of women experienced pain during sex. There were skeptics back then who thought, nah, that can’t be possible, otherwise we’d be having a nationwide conversation about how to fix such a huge problem. But now, the lead author of that study, Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute, confirms those numbers in a follow-up survey.

The Checkup

We discuss these surprisingly high numbers, and other new findings, in the second episode of our new podcast, The Checkup, which is just out at here. (To listen to The Checkup now, click on the arrow above; to download and listen later, press Download; and to get it through iTunes click here.)

The theme of podcast #2: “Matters Below The Waist.” This segment features frank talk about sex problems — and some solutions. We delve into Herbenick’s fascinating research on pain during sex and more (including personal insights from one of our hosts…) and speak with a physical therapist who specializes in various treatment options that can help women deal with this rarely discussed but incredibly widespread problem.

Not to leave men out, we also explore a little-known disorder called Peyronie’s disease, in which the erect penis becomes crooked, sometimes making it difficult to have intercourse. (Yes, this came up during the Bill Clinton impeachment era, and there’s more on that in the podcast.)

Herbenick’s initial survey of sex in America was the largest nationally representative study of sex in the country; her team surveyed 6,000 men and women, ages 14-94, and asked them about their sexual behavior.

Results of the latest survey (which Herbenick says were presented at an International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health annual meeting) are expected to be published in several months.

In the meantime here, lightly edited, is more from my interview last week with Herbenick, also the author of several books, including Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva and Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered-For Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex:

DH: We did another national survey of sex in America. And this time, knowing that we had this stark difference between how women and men experience pain during sex – only 5% of men reported any degree of pain, and most of theirs was mild, too. We did ask a series of follow-up questions. This time, for people who did experience pain, we collected information about how long the pain lasted, where in their body it was located, whether they told their partner, what they did in response to the pain, and we also separated it by vaginal and anal intercourse.

RZ: What else did you find?

So the first thing that was important is the 30% number is still there. And that’s important because it does show that it’s a stable and reliable estimate, which some people in the media had questioned [whether] it could really be that that number of people experienced pain — Continue reading

FDA Approves New Pill To Alleviate Pain During Sex

As we’ve reported, about one-third of women in the U.S. say they experience pain during sex.

There a number of non-medical interventions that can help fix the problem, such as pelvic floor physical therapy, which we’ve also written about here. Still, for some, medication may be called for, so it looks like a positive development that the FDA earlier this week approved a new drug to alleviate the pain that many post-menopausal women experience during intercourse.

MedPage Today reports that the newly approved “selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)” called ospemifene (Osphena) is taken as an oral tablet and “targets vulvar and vaginal atrophy resulting from menopause, which is the underlying cause of dyspareunia, or pain during sex.” There are risks, however:

The treatment, however, will come with a boxed warning stating that it may thicken the uterine lining, with the concern that unusual bleeding may be a sign of endometrial cancer or a condition that can lead to it. Continue reading

More on Painful Sex And How To Treat It

MTV tackles the subject of pain during sex

After running a series of posts last month on pain during sex and how to treat it through a little-known type of physical therapy, we got a deluge of comments from women (and a couple of men) who had experienced painful intercourse (or watched their spouse suffer through it), and never knew that help was readily available.

Now, it seems, more women are starting to speak out. This week, Chloe Angyal wrote a piece for Salon on her years-long experience with sex that hurt. One problem, she writes, is that women are embarrassed to speak out about their pain, and so, the subject remains taboo, and not adequately studied.

“Despite the fact that we live in a sex-saturated culture, chronic pelvic pain remains widely unknown and poorly understood. Part of that stems from a lack of research. “The state of the research on vulvar and vaginal pain issues is pretty bleak,” says Dr. Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and co-author of this year’s study [that found one-third of women experience pain during sex].

Maybe things are changing. This week, MTV ran a segment (complete with pounding background percussion and a warning about the explicit material) called True Life: I Can’t Have Sex, with three twentysomething women, Tess, Tamara and Tali, disclosing their stories of painful sex and the toll it has taken on their lives.

Live Chat: Do You Suffer From Painful Sex?

Join CommonHealth at 3:15 p.m. for a live discussion about how to treat pain during sex and other types of pelvic disorders. Leading expert Dr. Eman Elkadry of Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., takes your questions in conjunction with a live broadcast on WBUR’s Radio Boston.

Radio Boston Today: CommonHealth On Pain During Sex

Pain during sex is astonishingly widespread — in a recent survey, one-third of women reported problems with it — but it’s such an intimate concern that we don’t usually talk about it.

CommonHealth’s Rachel Zimmerman changed that: She courageously wrote two posts (here and here) that described her own experience and the pelvic floor therapy that has helped her and many others.

Today, Radio Boston will air a segment on pelvic pain and how to treat it, featuring pelvic floor physical therapist Jessica McKinney and urogynecologist Samantha Pulliam of Massachusetts General Hospital. Rachel will be doing a live webchat during the program with another urogynecologist, Eman Elkadry.

Rachel’s posts have been viewed by thousands and commented on by dozens, mostly women thanking her for speaking out about this sensitive subject and making others aware of available therapies. The other day, I saw a woman, a stranger, come up to Rachel in the hallway and hug her in gratitude. Tune in to Radio Boston today at 3 p.m. for more on a topic that is clearly in desperate need of more air.

Pain During Sex? There’s Hope In A Little-Known Treatment Option

About one-third of women experience pain during sex, says a new report. But treatment is available.

About one-third of women say they have pain during sex, according to a comprehensive new series of reports on the sexual lives of Americans published this week in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Debby Herbenick, one of the study’s authors, told me that number “surprised” her — she didn’t think so many women would report that kind of pain.

But it doesn’t surprise me — because I’m one of them.

Here’s my story:

Earlier this year, to put it bluntly, I started having pain during sex. For a while, I ignored it, telling myself it was probably just a passing problem that would resolve on its own. It didn’t.

I went to see my fantastic ob/gyn, Beth Hardiman, the woman who delivered my two children, and whom I trust with the most intimate details of my life. She did an exam and told me my vaginal muscles were locked in permanent spasm, like if you gripped your shoulders up to your ears and never let go.

“You need pelvic floor massage,” she said. (You can imagine what I envisioned.) “I’m giving you a prescription for pelvic floor physical therapy.”

Now, I thought I was a savvy health care consumer, having written on the topic as a journalist for the past 10 years. Plus, I’ve had two babies, so I thought I was fairly familiar with the pelvis. Wrong. I had never, ever heard of pelvic floor physical therapy. And I never realized how many complex systems — reproductive, urinary, gastrointestinal, neurological, psychological, and musculoskeletal — can be involved in pelvic pain.

Dr. Hardiman told me that many doctors hadn’t heard of it either. And if they did, they pooh-poohed the field as a bunch of amateurs blithely assigning kegel exercises to their patients. But she said so many of her patients complain of painful sex and related problems that pelvic floor physical therapy, as a specialty, should be far more recognized and respected. She gave me a list of 25 pelvic floor physical therapists in the region. The first five I called were completely booked and not taking new patients.

Then I found Rachael Maiocco, a pelvic floor physical therapist in Chestnut Hill, at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Rehabilitation Services. There was a three-month wait to see her, but eventually, I was scheduled for eight visits. Continue reading